With depression and suicide at an all-time high, and seemingly increasing with each passing year, it’s important for us as parents to take a step back and take a good long look at our teen’s sudden behavior changes to see if they could be linked to something more serious than just hormonal shifts. Spotting teen depression early is crucial to identifying key behaviors before they develop into self-harm or other dangerous habits. Here are some tips on spotting the signs of depression in teenagers, so you can identify the symptoms as early on as possible. 

Changes in Appetite and Sleep Patterns

While teenagers will go through different sleep and appetite patterns during their teen years, it’s important to watch for any sudden, serious shifts that seem to last for more than a few weeks. Changes in appetite, such as not eating at all, eating only very little, or binge eating, can seem like just a teenage thing, but this type of behavior can actually be an early warning sign of depression. 

Sleep and sustenance are both crucial to the proper development, growth, and overall health of both the body and mind. Teens who aren’t eating or sleeping properly because of depression will often find that other issues arise as well, from problems concentrating at school or staying awake during important events to even malnutrition from lack of food. Eating disorders can also develop from eating problems linked to depression. 

Keep an eye on how your teen sleeps and what/how much they eat. If you notice a sharp decline in sleep or food intake, or a sharp increase in either, you may want to look further into the issue and be certain your teen isn’t suffering from depression. 

Sudden Erratic Behavior 

Erratic behavior is often a tell-tale warning sign of depression. This can come in many forms, from being reckless with their own personal safety to sudden changes in mood or personality. This can be frightening when it seems to appear out of nowhere, but it’s crucial that you keep your wits about you and not react too much to the outbursts. Sometimes, these emotional or physical outbursts are a cry for help, so it’s important to pay attention to any sudden behavioral shifts. Your teen is crying “listen to me” without speaking; don’t ignore them! 

Erratic behavior can be dangerous to both your teen’s safety and the safety of others, so if you notice this type of shift, you’ll want to take action as soon as possible. 

Problems at School

Behavioral problems at school, troubling getting along with other kids, or a sudden and continuous drop in academics can also be a warning sign of depression. In fact, trouble at school is quite common in teens with depression. They find it difficult to concentrate or find interest in their studies, causing disengagement and, consequently, a drop in their performance. 

While we can certainly hope that our teens’ teachers will recognize these warning signs and let us know they’re occurring, it’s not always realistic or fair to expect a teacher to constantly monitor our children. Keep a close eye on your teen’s academics; be sure they’re doing well in all of their subjects and look for any sudden shifts in grades or performance. 

Drug and/or Alcohol Abuse 

If your teen has never used alcohol or drugs before and you find a sudden and frequent usage of either, pay close attention. Drug and alcohol abuse are some of the most common warning signs of depression, and as alcohol and many drugs are considered “depressants”, these things can make the depression much worse over time. This can lead to self-harm, recklessness, or worse. 

Keep an eye out for warning signs of drug or alcohol abuse, which can include:

  • Sudden change in friends
  • Breaking rules or defiant behavior 
  • Stealing money
  • Sudden aggressiveness
  • Weight loss
  • Shakes or tremors
  • Track marks on the arms or legs
  • Smell of alcohol on clothes 

Pervasive Sadness/Hopelessness 

At last, we come to perhaps the most common symptom associated with depression: pervasive sadness. Depression is often mistaken as “just being sad”, and this simply isn’t the case. Depression is a serious mental health condition that can lead to self-harm, addiction, and even death if left untreated. While depression can be caused by a multitude of reasons, one thing remains true about it: it is a serious condition that shouldn’t be ignored. 

Sadness that lasts more than about two weeks can be seen as an early warning sign that something isn’t right. We’re not talking your typical sad day either; depression’s sadness is pervasive, intense, and life-altering. Everyday activities become chores, and the once-joyful activities your teen once enjoyed become lifeless and dull. 

The Bottom Line 

Spotting depression early on in your teen’s adolescent years can save them a lot of trouble down the road, and may even save their life one day. Be sure to pay attention to your teen’s behavior and stay involved in their life. Any sudden changes should be addressed immediately, and if you suspect depression, take your teen to a mental health professional as soon as possible.

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